CREWBaltimore State of Retail Luncheon

CREWBaltimore hosted another successful luncheon on the State of Retail at McCormick & Schmick’s on July 16, 2019. CREWBaltimore member Dawn Sangley of Spry Design moderated the panel, whose members consisted of Arsh Mirmiran of Caves Valley Partners, Judy Neff of Checkerspot Brewing Company, Alex Smith of Atlas Restaurant Group, and Claudia Towles of aMuse Toys, all companies local to the Baltimore area.

Sangley started off the conversation by talking about how urban design and commercial real estate need retail. While offices energize the city during the day and housing strengthens the city at night, retail helps sustain both and activates the streetscape. While some retail is struggling, there are brick and mortar retail locations that are thriving. These businesses are keystones in our communities, creating a sense of place and generating interest. So how are our panelist’s companies attracting consumers given the competition from e-commerce? For all these companies, it’s about providing something that customers can’t get online. For Neff, they must have events, like live music, that draw people in. Being dog-friendly also helps draw a crowd. Smith concurred, saying that “people are going out for more than just food, they are going for an experience.” For Towles, the challenge came with how her retail toy store could compete against the convenience of online retailers for busy parents, as 39% of online shoppers say speed is the largest factor for choosing to purchase online over at a brick and mortar location. She said that since they have a lot of STEM toys, they have learning workshops for either just the child or the parent and the child to learn together, something not available online.

As far as development, Mirmiran has had success with “taking stable areas and pushing their edges.” This helps stabilize the city and promote future growth. There is a movement toward more urban development with “many people [who] still prefer living in the urban environment,” he said. In fact, Sangley mentioned that 56% of online shoppers still appreciate the in-person experience over digital retailers. Which might be why e-commerce, like Bonobos, Warby Parker, and Amazon have all opened brick and mortar locations. To address security concerns with some of those “urban edge” locations, Smith recommends hiring a private security company and having a presence on the ground. Valet service is usually a good way to ensure your customers feel safe and provides for a more leisurely experience.

How do each of these companies reduce their impact on the environment and give back to the community? For the local brewery, Checkerspot Brewing Company recycles containers and their spent grain goes to local cattle farmers. Additionally, they also use local fruit in some of their beer and host dog-focused events for BARCS. Smith said Atlas Restaurant Group also works with local farmers, donates to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and takes employees to do a yearly cleanup event.

Each of these companies also utilizes technology to enhance the shopping experience. For aMuse Toys, they have a rewards program that tracks purchases and gives recommendations to the consumer based on those purchases. Similarly, Atlas Restaurant Group uses analytics that tracks guest visits and orders. These analytics help the wait staff to give better recommendations and adds a special experience for the guest that they might not have with a food delivery service. Smith said they have also found that the personal outreach, like a card or a call back, ensures that the guest has a positive interaction with the restaurant. Neff agreed, saying that the staff at Checkerspot make concerted efforts to interact with guests. And some of that interaction is online, as they are very active on social media and use that as their promotional platform. Studies show that 40% of business owners are using social media to generate sales, and that 23% of consumers say that recommendations on social media influence their buying decisions.

The brick and mortar retail experience is not disappearing. As long as companies are adaptable and willing to put in the extra effort and innovation to draw in customers, they will likely see a return on their investment.

To see more event photos, click here.